The San Francisco Giants turned the World Series opener into an extra long round of batting practice — against Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers.
Freddy Sanchez sprayed balls down the lines. Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff hit line drives up the middle. Juan Uribe launched a shot far, far over the wall.
So much for the unbeatable Mr. Lee.
The Giants battered him and the bullpen, with Sanchez hitting three doubles and keying a six-run burst in an 11-7 romp Wednesday night that looked even more lopsided.
What shaped up as a pitchers’ duel between Tim Lincecum and Lee quickly deteriorated into a rout. By the end, the Rangers played like the World Series rookies they are — they made four errors, Ian Kinsler took a mistaken turn around first base and manager Ron Washington may have waited too late to pull his ace.
”It wasn’t quite the game we thought it would be,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. ”Great pitchers, sometimes they’re a little bit off.”
Former Giants slugger Barry Bonds had plenty to cheer for from his seat next to the San Francisco dugout, especially when a tie game suddenly became an 8-2 thumping in the fifth inning. Rangers president and part-owner Nolan Ryan sat there glumly in a suit and tie, his prized pitcher a wreck.
Down early 2-0 to Lee, the Giants swung things in their favor in a hurry.
”We weren’t too worried,” Sanchez said. ”We were actually surprisingly calm in there. We were able to get some things going. … We still felt like we had a chance.
”We know he throws a lot of strikes,” he said. ”We know he’s one of the best pitchers in the game, especially in the postseason. We just wanted to attack him early.”
And they did. Lee threw first-pitch strikes to 15 hitters, seven of those hitters swung.
”I saw the Giants work him pretty good,” Washington said. ”We left some pitches in spots we didn’t want.”
The Rangers did late damage, scoring three times in the ninth. Nelson Cruz hit a two-out, two-run double off Brian Wilson before the Fear the Beard closer finished it off.
Added up, the Giants improved to 10-0 against Texas at AT&T Park. Showers are in the forecast for Game 2 on Thursday night when Matt Cain and his 0.00 ERA in two playoff start takes on C.J. Wilson and the Rangers.
Sanchez finished with four of the Giants’ 14 hits, which included six doubles. Right after Lee walked off the mound in the fifth, Uribe greeted sidearming reliever Darren O’Day with a three-run jolt that broke it open.
Sanchez became the first player to hit a double in each of his first three Series at-bats. He nearly had a fourth, too, but the play was scored a single and an error.
San Francisco had gotten through the NL playoffs because of their dominant pitching, plus an ability to win one-run decisions. None of that came into play on this beautiful night for baseball.
Lincecum struggled at the beginning, making a strange mental error, but settled down as the game progressed. The shaggy-haired ace walked off to a standing ovation in the sixth, his glove in his right hand and his head down.
The Rangers tagged him for eight hits, two of them shots off his left leg.
What happened to Lee was simply remarkable.
He came into the game with a 7-0 record in postseason play, one win shy of matching the record set by Orlando ”El Duque” Hernandez for the best start in these big games.
But the lefty who loves to stick to his routine – and his messy hat – was all over the place on eight days’ rest. He couldn’t control his curve and when he did throw it over the plate, it was flat.
With the score 2-all, Andres Torres hit a one-out double in the Giants fifth. Sanchez, a former NL batting champion, followed with a sharp double and Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux was already on the way to the mound as the Rangers got the ball back to Lee.
There was no break for Lee, however. NL championship series MVP Ross, who hit his first major league homer off Lee back in 2003, lined an RBI single up the middle on the lefty’s 100th pitch. That hit prompted Lee to slam his pitching hand into his glove, and Huff’s RBI single to center finished him.
Uribe capped the big inning by connecting on the third pitch from O’Day. The homer was accompanied by sights and sounds that make AT&T Park unique — burst from a fog horn and blasts from a water cannon.
”We just clicked on all cylinders,” Bochy said.
The last time the Giants had scored six runs in an inning during the postseason was in the 1937 World Series.
The Giants have not won the World Series since moving West from New York. Texas made its first Series appearance in the franchise’s 50th season.
This has been the Year of the Pitcher, especially in the postseason. Yet Lincecum and Lee hardly looked like Cy Young winners in the early innings. Instead of expert Cys, there were exasperated sighs on both sides.
Neither team looked especially sharp at the start, in fact, mixing physical and mental mistakes. Big-game jitters? The twilight start? Whatever, when Tony Bennett sang his famed ”I Left My Heart in San Francisco” on the field after the first inning, it was easy to wonder where the Giants and Rangers had left their gloves and minds.
Lincecum seemed caught in a fog, inexplicably losing track of the runners and outs in the opening inning.
Vladimir Guerrero hit a one-hopper off Lincecum’s leg for an RBI single, leaving Rangers at the corners. The slight righty then fielded a tapper by Cruz in front of the plate, but simply let Michael Young scamper back to third. Lincecum buckled down with the bases loaded, getting Kinsler to ground into an inning-ending double play.
After the heady Sanchez was doubled off second on Buster Posey’s shallow fly in the bottom of the first, Texas struck again in the second.
Cheered during pregame introductions, former Giants catcher Bengie Molina heard groans after a leadoff single. Lee bluffed a bunt, pulled back and lined a double that made him 4 for 12 (.333) lifetime in the postseason.
From the dugout, all the Rangers clenched their hands in a claw – the team’s signal for a big play. Lee merely stuck his hands out to side, as if to say, ”What luck!” Elvis Andrus’ sacrifice fly made it 2-0.
A misplayed grounder by Young at third base helped the Giants get even in the third. Sanchez lined an RBI double just past Young’s glove and scored the tying run on Posey’s single.
Notes: Andrus singled to start the evening. He has hit safely in all 12 postseason games. … Exactly 21 years ago, the 1989 World Series resumed after a 10-day delay because of an earthquake in the Bay Area. … Willie Mays was set to throw out the first ball, but was ill and missed the game. Juan Marichal, Monte Irvin and Willie McCovey were among the Giants greats who took part in the ceremonies. … The team that took the World Series opener went to win the championship 61 percent of the time.